Exploring Child Care Access & Safety

They say raising a child takes a village. At least that was the case in New Jersey as the Office of Information Technology led a collaborative project to bring enhanced resources, powered by data, to citizens regarding statewide child care services.

Child care centers in New Jersey are defined as establishments that provide care for six or more children below 13 years of age who attend less than 24 hours a day. Child care centers are required by New Jersey law to be licensed.

Licensed Child Care Data for Everyone

Child care is essential for working families. However, many across the U.S. are unable to find or afford high-quality child care, according to a 2018 report from Child Care Aware America, a leading advocacy group.

Our goal is to publish all data, not just financial data, that the public may be interested in.

Poonam Soans

Open Data Program Manager, New Jersey Office of Information Technology

Child Care Aware of America reports that in New Jersey in 2018 there were 276,622 single-parent families in the state, and 69,485 working mothers with infants younger than one year old.

Finding child care can be a challenge, but that’s where state data can play a role. The Licensed Child Care Explorer is an application available through New Jersey’s Open Data Center and the Office of Licensing of the Department of Children and Families. It allows citizens to search and compare available child care centers based on capacity and location, and also view all inspection/violation reports. Since the project required analysis of mass amounts of data, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) worked together with the Office of Information Technology (OIT) and Socrata to develop a streamlined application that can easily be updated. The state adds new data on a monthly basis.

Poonam Soans, open data program manager with the New Jersey Office of Information Technology, is leading the project and explains that one of the goals was to develop a resource that the DCF could manage and operate independently for highest efficiency. “We have a great team that maintains the data. We essentially showed them how to upload the data, and they are the ones that publish it,” she says.

The New Jersey Office of Licensing represents 3,611 licensed child care centers in the state, with a total of 351,461 slots for infant- to school-aged children. Preschoolers account for the majority of child care slots, 65,178 or, 62.9 percent, while infants account for 14,732 slots, or 14.2 percent.

By giving New Jersey parents and guardians an easy way to research child care facilities, find providers in their area, check a facility’s capacity, and review any violations found in facility’s state inspection, the tool lessens the burden of finding quality child care. The open data child care portal has been touted in local media, and the data is being used in a state rating system called Grow NJ Kids, a state-sponsored initiative to raise the quality of child care and early learning throughout the state.

Using the cloud computing solution, we have the ability to provide the public with formal and consistent access to the data that can be easily retrieved, downloaded, sorted, searched, analyzed, redistributed, and reused by individuals.

Poonam Soans

Open Data Program Manager, New Jersey Office of Information Technology

Effectively Using Government Data to Serve the Public

While the Child Care Explorer fills an immediate need for parents, families, and community members concerned about child safety in their area, it also fits into a larger goal of effectively using government data to serve the public. “In 2010, Governor Christie wanted us to be more transparent with data related to taxpayer dollars. Now our goal is to publish all data, not just financial data, that the public may be interested in,” Soans says.

State of New Jersey Open Data Center Screenshot
Inspection reports are easy to find in the new app.

Since launching the application in late 2014, the Office of Information Technology has received positive feedback from the DCF on how much easier it is to relay and update information for local citizens. “When they came to us, they were limited to static spreadsheets that they were displaying on their site,” explains Soans. “Using the cloud computing solution, we have the ability to provide the public with formal and consistent access to the data that can be easily retrieved, downloaded, sorted, searched, analyzed, redistributed, and reused by individuals.”

While it’s clear that the project was successful in improving child care service transparency, Soans hopes that it also serves as a model for other agencies to find new ways to use government data to deliver better services. “Once we show this to other agencies, we’re hoping they will approach us across other areas of interest,” she says.

Case Study Highlights

  • Open data portal includes information on 3,600+ licensed child care centers across New Jersey
  • State data gives parents and guardians easy access to research child care providers
  • Cloud computing solution provides access to data that can be easily retrieved, searched, and analyzed and is a model for other agencies

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